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The Plain English Attorney

And it is now time for our E-Law item of the month where we spotlight or critique an interesting website or online article relevant to the field of estate planning. Whether it is praising something or tearing it apart, you’ll get it here. And this month’s item is certainly not new, but it will explain how some attorneys drafting Wills are hopelessly, and possibly unknowingly, stuck in the past.

Did you ever wonder why most of the country uses standard letter size paper but a lot of attorneys feel the need to do a Last Will and Testament on legal sized paper? There actually is a reason behind all of this, and it just goes to show that some habits are hard to break, even if they are almost 250 years old.

Back in 1765, the British Parliament imposed a tax on the colonies. It was called The Stamp Act, and you may have heard something about the ruckus it caused. Patriots causing protests, burning the Prime Minister in effigy, things like that. What the Stamp Act did, among other things, was mandate that all legal paperwork must be affixed with the Crown’s official stamp to show that the paper had been taxed in order for the document to be legal. And the lawyers, smart people that they were, decided to increase the size of the paper so documents could be written on fewer pages of paper and, therefore, pay less in taxes.

Well, that ruckus kept up for a few more years, and finally there was a Revolution overthrowing the British King. There was also a civil war, the industrial revolution, big band music, a few World Wars, Star Wars, the Internet, Paris Hilton and Parking Wars, and a few other developments. Meanwhile, the mentality of using a Last Will and Testament rather than a revocable living trust to arrange your estate affairs survived all those years, along with using that oversized paper utilized during the Stamp Act of 1765. So while the rest of the world is getting wise to using a revocable living trust to avoid probate and that using 8 and a half by 11 inch paper, like the rest of us, for legal documents is OK, we still have a lot of attorneys folding up Wills on legal-sized paper and taping them shut. Well, at least they’re not using wax seals… or powdered wigs… anymore. I suppose that’s some sort of progress.

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